Bathroom Bliss: From stone fireplaces to shower waterfalls, the master bath has become the home sanctuary |

Bathroom Bliss: From stone fireplaces to shower waterfalls, the master bath has become the home sanctuary

Kimberly Nicoletti
Grand County Homes and Properties

Hand-carved vines adorn columns, which frame a whirlpool tub. Faux-painted aspens reach skyward, to the arched faux marble ceiling. Rich wood, green marble, ornate tile work and a picture window complete the bathroom’s focal point.

A refreshing nature

The owner of this master bathroom in northern Colorado grew up as a farmer, but the only thing in his home that resembles living on a farm is his reflected love for nature. Even the travertine stone on the floor reveals leaf patterns.

“Basically, it was a repeat of elements of nature,” says Juliana VanderMeer, interior designer at Emlin Design Studio in Boulder.

Mimicking nature is a common theme found in master bathrooms; most homeowners want to engage light and nature, says Rich Carr, an architect at CCY Architects in Basalt. For one of his latest projects in the greater Steamboat area, he used the same rugged, natural stone on the exterior of the home to create an interior bathroom wall, complemented with silver travertine on the adjacent wall. The room has a powerful, grounded feel because it connects with surrounding landscape.

Natural light also brings an outdoor feeling inside. Plus, it saves energy, since homeowners don’t always have to turn lights on in the daytime.

Chris Keller, president of Aspen Construction in Silverthorne, installs windows (at shoulder height) in every master-bath shower and tub possible. While many architects avoid placing showers, especially steam showers, on standardly insulated exterior walls because it’s not an energy efficient practice, Keller insulates his walls so they are 25 percent more efficient.

Spa-style luxury

Along with the feel of nature, home-

owners aim for a spa-like atmosphere. One reason people focus on creating a divine master bathroom is because it becomes their place to find quiet time. “It can take some of the stress out of your life,” says Marilyn Smith Heaney, interior designer with Slifer Designs in Edwards.

“People look at it as a sanctuary within a sanctuary of their master bedroom,” Carr says.

As such, master bathrooms are becoming larger than ever, up to 150 to 200 square feet, says architect Gene Baker of Baker + Hogan + Houx in Summit County. Some people even build two showers: one steam and one regular. And these days, nearly every master bathroom includes a separate toilet compartment with a door to add more privacy than a dividing wall, Baker says.

Air tubs, which utilize small holes to create a constant stream of massaging air bubbles, are beginning to replace traditional jetted tubs. Generally, they are less expensive than whirlpools because they don’t require piping installation. In addition, they aren’t noisy and can accommodate bath oils and salts ” and water doesn’t become trapped in the jets, possibly leading to bacteria build up. For those who want both jets and tiny air bubbles, combination hydrotherapy units are available.

Manufacturers such as BathMasters, Inc. build tubs based on homeowners’ specifications of size, bath pump location, type of jet hardware and color. Tubs made by companies like Hydro Systems feature underwater 10-color lighting systems; they display a rejuvenating combination of pink, blue and red and a soothing fade of blues and greens. Subtle points of light on the tub’s upper perimeter create a romantic mood.

Other manufacturers, such as PDC Spas, offer aromatherapy, which infuses the room with fragrance from beads placed in a canister. Aromatherapy is believed to influence moods, reduce fatigue and anxiety and increase relaxation.

And, homeowners can either wire their bathrooms for sound or purchase tubs that include audio systems. MTI baths integrate an acoustic transducer system in their shells, making their tubs sounding boards that distribute music or sounds of trickling water throughout the entire tub ” and introducing bass frequencies into the water so people actually feel the music. CD changers, MP3 devices and home audio systems connect to the amplifiers.

Though tubs are often the focal point of the bathroom, Jules Devigne, president of Devigne Developing in Breckenridge, likes to make showers the main attraction.

In his 2008 Parade of Homes entry in Breckenridge, the master bathroom features a 14-foot ceiling and a 7-foot-by-4-foot dual-head steam shower surrounded by glass, with a custom waterfall. The waterfall emanates from a 2-foot-by-1-1/2-foot stone shelf on the back wall, 8 feet above the floor. An 18-inch long pipe equally disperses water over the hearthstone, and the water flows from a separate valve so homeowners can turn it on and off at will.

Home-building professionals are also weaving sustainable designs and materials into their bathrooms. Carr likes to use ground-source heat pumps or active solar to heat water, as well as high-quality, low-flow toilets, such as those by Toto. He’s also working on homes located on creeks or ditches that use micro-hydro, which produces electricity. Baker points out that putting the master bath on a separate heat zone allows homeowners to keep the rest of the home cool for sleeping while maintaining warmth in the bathroom, thus saving energy.

Luxury’s in the details, too

In addition to lavish tubs and showers, details complete a spa-like bathroom.

Devigne added a stone fireplace to his bathroom. Many contractors include two-sided glass fireplaces, which share a wall between the master bedroom and bath.

Meanwhile, mirrors are getting high-tech. Myson’s new mirrored TV magnetically secures an ultra-thin television to the back of the mirror. When the TV is off, it looks like a framed mirror. WarmlyYours provides an electric mirror defogging system, which attaches to the back of any mirror and prevents moisture from forming.

Double sinks and vanities have been in vogue for a while, but now professionals are beginning to create a “his” and “her” side, separating not only counter space, but also walk-in closets (“hers” often includes a washer and dryer), Devigne says.

Speaking of adjacent areas, Devigne prefers a grand entrance from the bedroom to the master bath ” perhaps something with columns on each side. But he’s quick to point out that many people want doors, which provide privacy and noise reduction, and also help bathrooms retain heat.

Homeowners also are opting for “cabinetry” that looks like furniture, as opposed to built-in units, says Thomas Thurston, interior designer with Thurston Kitchen and Bath in Eagle-Vail.

In addition to natural light, artificial lighting plays an important role in creating a pleasing bathroom. Ceilings full of cans cast shadows on faces, while wall sconces lend a softer effect.

“Women don’t want to look in the mirror and see aged, sagged shadows,” VanderMeer says. “It’s sort of like dressing rooms; if they have good lighting, you feel good about yourself and want to buy the clothes. If not, you don’t want to buy the clothes.”

Colors help define mood; warmer colors flatter skin tones more than cooler colors, she says. Even green tones found in many spas can be warm. Green glass tiles create a soothing, clean and crisp look ” along with green walls and granite countertops ” and dark wood cabinets generate drama by adding contrast, says Smith Heaney.

In terms of flooring, people often prefer marble, even though smooth marble can be slippery, Tessier says. Others choose travertine or an acid-etched marble to reduce slippage, then use smooth marble for shower walls and tub decks. A lot of homeowners add large area rugs for both practical and decor purposes.

Countertops are often marble, granite or limestone.

“There are a thousand different kinds of stone, and each one’s a little different,” Tessier says.

And inspiration springs from the most unlikely places. Keller designed a path made of smooth stones meandering from the bedroom through the master bath after watching people walk barefoot on a variety of irregular surfaces in a Tokyo park.

“People definitely want to make a statement in their master baths,” Smith Heaney says.

And they often need help. Keller says though he may not hire an interior designer for other portions of the homes he builds, he almost always uses one for the kitchen and the master bath, since they sell the house. He estimates a master bath should cost about $20,000, or 2 percent of a million-dollar home.

“It’s definitely a place you want to spend money, because what people look at are kitchens and master baths,” Devigne says.

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